Town working on rules to make backyard fires legal

Town working on rules to make backyard fires legal

CUMBERLAND – It’s the oldest trick in the book for Cumberland residents who need to justify their backyard fire when safety officials show up: Have a rock wrapped in tin foil on hand.

But technically, says Fire Chief Nicholas Anderson, even a fake potato ready to eat isn’t reason enough to be allowed to have a fire under current ordinances.

Town Councilor Robert Shaw has been working with Anderson on drafting potential new rules governing backyard fires, saying he wants the Fire Department to have rules to go by when responding to complaints, but also allow residents to use the fire pits that “90 percent” of them are using anyway.

“I want to make fire pits safe and legal in the town of Cumberland and without having to use any loophole for them to be allowed when there are no safety regulations in place,” he said. “It’s a pro-fire pit approach, not an anti-fire pit approach.”

Some residents have “fire pits the size of a pool footprint,” said Shaw, and there are plenty of instances where there are valid concerns but no method for enforcement.

Anderson said he is willing to help the council by providing some safety recommendations to be considered for residential fire pits.

“The current open burning ordinance is for taxpayers who are zoned agricultural with over 2 acres,” he said. “Burning season is done January through March by permit.”

Ceremonial burning is also allowed by permit.

The town has many responsible taxpayers who already own and operate residential fire pits, Anderson said.

“According to ordinance, they are illegal,” he said. “Many taxpayers ask the Fire Department for recommendations on how to operate their fire pit. I believe their recommendations should be in the ordinance.”

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An example of something that would not be allowed, said Anderson, would be a homemade, wood-burning fire pit on someone’s deck.

Current rules don’t view outdoor fires “as a social thing” as they are today, said Shaw.

According to Anderson, existing rules don’t allow fire pits, even when food is present. He said he believes a food exception may have been included in an earlier town ordinance.

“We all know there are many fire pits out there. We don’t respond to them unless they become a nuisance,” he said. “Realistically no one is going to fine you unless you are creating a nuisance or the police feel your actions are unsafe. Most are reasonable and respectful.”

Outside of burning on 2-acre parcels, the only other rules in town on fires relate to a 1991 ordinance on external furnaces.

Shaw, who said he doesn’t use a fire pit himself, told The Breeze he’s been doing some research into ordinances in surrounding towns. He said this is about doing what’s right for the people and giving fire officials the tools they need when called. Fire pits aren’t going away, he said.

Just like many things in society, change occurs “and we need to address topics from both sides of the line,” said Shaw, including those who are all for fire pits and those who are concerned about the dangers they pose.

Anderson will have great involvement in the creation of any ordinance, said Shaw. The chief is doing research now so the two can meet “and put something together,” he said. He said he hopes to have something to present within the next month or month and a half.


Fire pits should not be allowed. We live on quarter acre lots in my neighborhood in Cumberland and we choke on the smoke in our home with the windows closed when our two neighbors burn. The smoke pours in the soffit vents of the house.

I like this. There are many responsibile people that use their firepit properly. I'm sure there will those for and against like everything else, and if there are guidelines even better, or perhaps closeness to neighbors etc...

We’ve been using a fire pit for years. It would be nice to have some rules in place so if they do become a nuisance Something can be done versus banning everybody’s fire pit

The previous comment wants to ban them my suggestion is to wear their face mask kill two birds with one stone.

Chief Anderson, kudos on telling people how unsafe it is putting a fire pit on your deck, if only your predecessor knew of this...

please limit the size of the pit, hours, and the location on the size lot. Why do I say this?? I have new renters aside me in my town, we all have 1/4 acre lots, and who love love love campfires...nightly. Then when they are indoors, burn their fireplace, nightly. My town limits the size and location, but does that help an asthmatic like me?? No. And as one poster indicated, the smoke permeates inside our homes.
Being an asthmatic, I have had to use my rescue inhaler and have needed an RX for daily asthma med. All because my town does allow a campfire for warmth and to eat....but no one considers asthmatics, no one. It is not a joking matter when you cannot open your windows to enjoy fresh air, there is none to have. Nor can I enjoy gardening as I once did. Keep this in mind. Gasping for air, INSIDE your own home because your neighbor has protected rights as to a daily campfire is just not enjoyable. So moving to the country is on the agenda for me, so I can breathe better. Joking about wearing a face mask in one's home due to smoke? That is insensitive. I don't want them banned, but having limits as to how often, hours of use, would be a nice consideration for asthmatics.